“I began to realize that coming in such close contact with my own mortality had changed both nothing and everything. Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn’t really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live.”
― Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air
“Music. Wine. A cigar. The small luxuries of life are how we survive what the mind can’t fathom.”
Mark Sullivan, Beneath a Scarlet Sky: A Novel (p. 90).
Pino got a faraway look in his eye, and after a long hesitation, said, “I’ve never told anyone about my war, Bob. But someone very wise once told me that by opening our hearts, revealing our scars, we are made human and flawed and whole. I guess I’m ready to be whole.”
Mark Sullivan, Beneath a Scarlet Sky: A Novel (p. 502).
It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book about World War II, but the first time I’ve ever read one from an Italian perspective. Mark Sullivan’s Beneath a Scarlet Sky is based on the true story of Pino Lella, an Italian spy for the Allies. When he was 18, Lella became the personal driver for one of Hitler’s top men, a Nazi named General Hans Leyers. Crazy, right? It’s really no wonder that Beneath a Scarlet Sky has risen to number 3 on Amazon Charts this week.
“Is it possible, finally, for one human being to achieve perfect understanding of another? We can invest enormous time and energy in serious efforts to know another person, but in the end, how close are we able to come to that person’s essence? We convince ourselves that we know the other person well, but do we really know anything important about anyone?”
—Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
I’m currently trudging through Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It’s one of those books high school English teachers love to assign, and high school students love to use as a nice door stop or eye pillow (It’s 607 pages long in like 10pt font with line spacing approximating 0). The book doesn’t have a nice snappy, linear plot. Instead, it follows Toru Okada, just a normal guy without a job, and the many people he meets as he tries to find his cat. While it’s taking me forever to finish, I find the book thought provoking and beautifully written (hence all the block quotes). Mostly, it’s really made me think about the difficulties of knowing others and even knowing ourselves.